1. Life & Culture

Review: 'The Accountant' exploits autism and takes dumb turns

Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic accountant hired to cook the books for a robotics company.
Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, an autistic accountant hired to cook the books for a robotics company.
Published Oct. 11, 2016

Ben Affleck is Agent Double-OCD in The Accountant, an effortlessly dumb thriller barely more entertaining than an audit. Until it's time to pick it apart.

Affleck plays Christian Wolff, if that's his real name, a bean counting savant whose graceless manner is due to autism and who moonlights as a killing machine. The Accountant is therefore A Beautiful Mind with, as one character puts it, a .45 caliber bullet parked in its brain pan.

Christian is a piece of work, the product of a deserting mother, disruptive brother and learning death techniques like belt fu in Jakarta from his sado-Santini father. Christian is an enigma who won't touch his Airstream bedroom light switch, can one-shot splatter a cantaloupe from a mile away and apparently hates his shins. An inability to relate personally is evidenced by his emotionless approach to point-blank facial reconstruction.

Few actors are more qualified than Affleck to play such a blank slate. Here, he seems to have retained the Batman cowl, with only his jaw moving much because speaking calls for it. Christian is a character of few words and illogical action, thrust into a howler plot.

Christian has been hired to cook the books for a robotics company owned by John Lithgow, who's the biggest, brightest red flag casting every thriller doesn't need. Director Gavin O'Connor doubles down on unfortunate instinct by hiring Anna Kendrick as Dana Cummings, an accountant without artillery, too cute for these circumstances and disposed elsewhere for much of the running time.

Dana's job is marveling at Christian's math acumen, staring in awe at glass walls Sharpied with perhaps more numbers than some accountants see in a career. That, and slurping a milkshake, peering through flat hair proving she's a hard worker, I guess? Take your pick of pitch perfect Anna moments: her prom dress monologue or sleeping curled on a couch in kicky denim. It's a demographic break from O'Connor's preference for blowtorch torture and anti-aircraft home decor.

Oscar winner J.K. Simmons fares no better in a tangled subplot as U.S. Treasury enforcer Ray King, on the trail of a mysterious accountant who works for shady people. With the full reach of federal prosecution at his disposal, Ray turns over the case to fabricating job applicant Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson). He's on the cusp of retirement, as movie cops older than 50 usually are. His flashbacks are dull movies unto themselves.

The Accountant gets a few live wire bursts from Jon Bernthal as Braxton, a goon of Lithgow's with a connection to Christian that I'd eliminated early from consideration, thinking it too plain stupid for screenwriter Bill Dubuque to use. I was wrong. Emmy winner Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent) shows up as Christian's prison father figure, proving he also does good work in men's clothing.

Whatever perverse goodwill O'Connor's movie builds is wasted by a finale playing like a saccharine apology after violently exploiting autism for two hours. One in 68 children is diagnosed, we're informed, at the end of a movie establishing one as a soulless killer. Now, that's a cooked book.

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Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.


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